Nov 8, 2015

Our Move Back To Milwaukee

Three weeks ago, my wife and I (and our aging dogs) finished a long-planned move from Kingston, NY to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The trip took two very long days of driving, and some adventures (which you can hear about in this video, if you're so inclined), and moving everything into our new apartment took the entirety of a day as well.

Both Andi and I maintain some pretty heavy workloads, with a lot of deadlined projects -- and in her case, ten days away in California for her work -- so the process of unpacking and entirely settling in has taken considerably longer than we'd anticipated.  But, we are definitely back home!  I imagine that many of my readers, viewers, subscribers, and so forth, might be curious about why we moved to this particular Midwestern city, and what this move means for the future.  So there's probably no better place to write about that then here, in the longest-established of all of my blogs.

Backstory About How We Ended Up In New York

When planning out my life, I never intended to live in New York myself.  In fact, I would have been quite content to live in the Midwest, making occasional forays for conferences, vacation travel, or speaking engagements to other parts of the US.  As it turned out, however, the vagaries of the academic job market -- I'll tell that story in full at another time (and I'm going to similarly beg off on several other stories here) -- landed me at a struggling historically black university in North Carolina, Fayetteville State University.  There, in addition to engaging in the sorts of teaching and scholarship I'd carried out in my previous position, I was quickly drawn into quite a few other activities -- faculty development, more public speaking, assessment of student learning, and even academic leadership.  I also went through a difficult divorce at a distance -- another story for another time.

Andi and I also reconnected, and quickly realized that we'd each found "the one" in each other. There's a long and involved, and very romantic story there, to which I don't intend here even to attempt to render a bit of justice -- so I'll tell that one another time as well -- but the long and short of it is that we'd first met back in high school in 1985, and crossed paths again when we both lived on the east side of Milwaukee, and worked in the 100 East Building in the 1990s.

Now, for her part, Andi had wanted to live in New York, and had done so, living in the City, attending the City College of New York, earning a variety of fellowships and awards, but also working as a building superintendent.  After a number of years living right in the heart of the City, she moved upstate to the Hudson Valley, and eventually became a vital part of the administration at the Culinary Institute of America -- she'd just assumed a Dean's position when we began corresponding.

We spent one long, tough year trying the "commuter couple" lifestyle -- and it quickly became apparent that it wasn't something we wanted to do any longer than we had to.  There was never any question of Andi leaving her position and coming down to North Carolina.  The entire state was in the throes of a deep budget crisis from 2008 on, seriously compromising the UNC system with cutback after cutback.  And, I'd never really felt at home there -- unlike the Hudson Valley, which bears numerous affinities with the area of the Midwest I hail from -- Southeastern Wisconsin.

I left a position at FSU where, if I had stayed into my fourth year,  I had every expectation not only of early tenure and promotion, but of being the person tasked with developing, administering, and reporting university-wide assessment -- one of the conditions of FSU's 10-year Quality Enhancement Plan I had helped to write.  Instead, I packed up everything I owned into a Penske truck and drove it up to my wife-to-be's apartment in Kingston.  We got married, lived together, and did much of our work, in that cramped "carriage house" apartment in New York for four years and some months.


The Choice To Come Back

Both Andi and I are admittedly workaholics, but we're also (her originally, and me developing this over time) entrepreneurial in our approach to our academic activities and skills, and the payoff for that turned out to be that eventually all of our work had shifted away from the brick and mortar college locations we'd started with, to either being entirely online, or to involving services that we could deliver onsite, wherever needed.  At that point, although we certainly had developed a sizable web of friends, colleagues, and business contacts reaching throughout the east coast -- people who we would and do indeed miss -- we were less and less interested in remaining in New York for its own sake, and we began thinking seriously about something that had been more of a far-off plan: returning to our home state, Wisconsin -- and specifically to Milwaukee.

I suspect that the shared history that brought us together and cemented our relationship played a significant through unspoken role in our decision.  To a partner who is genuinely interested in the region of one's past, willing to put in the work to gradually learn its landscape, vocabulary, and population -- and doing that is indeed one criteria of a certain mode of loving, I'd argue -- these sorts of things can become one's own through a kind of developing affinity.  When you don't have to work at it, though, because both of you are indeed from the same place (or pretty close -- Wales and then Waukesha in my case, Brookfield in hers), there's not necessarily a stronger bond, but there is a more pressing though often unspoken orientation.

The opportunity to be able to spend time with family when we chose to -- rather than just snatching what moments we could get at holidays before embarking on another two-day return drive back to Kingston -- that explicitly entered into our deliberations and decision.  Andi is fortunate enough to still have family living right here in the Milwaukee area(and I'm fortunate to have good in-laws I like!), and I have graves to visit (and, I've noted, to clean as well) out in the St. Paul Cemetery.  But, moving here also places me much closer to my children and extended family (quite vastly extended), as well as to my biological parents and siblings.

What I'll Be Doing Here

People, hearing that we were planning this move, asked me two connected questions.  Did you get a job at one of the colleges out there?  And, what sort of work will you be doing out there?  The assumption, a very natural one still today, is that one goes to where the job is, or one looks for work where one ends up.  For us, however, much of the work that we perform is no longer structured that way. And so the answer is, at least in part -- I'll be doing precisely what I was doing in New York.

Without intending for this to be the case, I've become one of the main purveyors of easily-understood but still rigorous video lectures on philosophy worldwide.  I intend to continue to keep producing online video content for at least the next five years, and now that I have my chalkboard set up, new lighting, and the iMac I use for editing, I can do that just as effectively from here as anywhere else.

Online teaching, of course, can also be done from anywhere that has a reliable internet connection -- and at this point, all of my college-level teaching has been online for some time.  The tutoring services I offer can be rendered face-to-face where I happen to live, but much of my clientele is a worldwide one now, who I work with via skype.  The same holds for the philosophical counseling services I provide.  Blogging and other online content development, well, that's entirely online!

It's primarily in the area of public speaking that I have to start pounding the figurative pavement.  We had established a decent network to provide opportunities and engagements for paid public speaking out in New York -- and as far as colleges and universities go, that was pretty rich territory to work within, given the sheer number of schools in that area.  Now, however, we have the opportunity to develop a new, still more robust, network, this time on home turf to which we've returned after learning some valuable lessons in a larger and in certain respects tougher terrain.

Best of all, we get to do this while living and working right in the downtown of a city that we've long loved, but which in recent years has also displayed a surprising dynamism.  We just happened to have timed our move back here well for enjoying the benefits of that -- from a food scene that is drawing international attention, to what we might well call an underdeveloped market for accessible intellectual engagement -- particularly in the public humanities -- with a sizable and underserved demand.  So, what will I -- and what will Andi -- be doing here?  The simplest answer is this: flourishing by putting our talents fully to work!